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All Things Outdoors: Learning to hunt with dogs

Jeremy Dobson and his dog Maggie demonstrate retrieving dead birds during the Learn to Hunt class.
Katie Thoresen
Jeremy Dobson and his dog Maggie demonstrate retrieving dead birds during the Learn to Hunt class.

WXPR’s Katie Thoresen is participating in a Learn to Hunt for Food course being offered through the Wisconsin DNR.

She’ll be sharing some of her experiences throughout the year on WXPR’s All Things Outdoors.

Starting with this episode on bird hunting with dogs.

In an open field free of snow but still brown from the long winter, Jeremy Dobson uses a whistle to call his dog Maggie to his side.

The brown and white English springer spaniel is excited for her turn.

Dobson is demonstrating to the Learn to Hunt class how Maggie will retrieve a dead bird.

“So what I’ll do is point her in the right direction and say ‘dead bird’ and with any luck she won’t argue with me about picking up the bird because it’s not her favorite,” said Dobson.

Maggie follows the command, searches out the dead bird, in this situation it’s a pigeon that’s being used for the demonstrations, and enthusiastically brings it back to Dobson.

“Here, here. She’s pretty excited to be out of the house today.”

Dobson and Maggie were the last of the dog demonstrations.

Gavin Cotterill with his English Pointer Lucy and Alex Anderson with his English Pointer Tammy show how pointers will cover large distances search for a bird and then hold position while the hunter catches up.

Conservation Warden Tim Otto with his American Water Spaniel Aldo displays how flushing dogs stay a little closer and get as rush the bird forcing it to fly.

Each instructor showed the gear they use, talked through the training the dogs went through, and general safety for keeping their dogs healthy.

While that’s their preferred way to grouse hunt, they also made it clear you don’t need a dog to successfully.

“Your method kind of changes a bit,” said Conservation Warden Curt Butler, one of the instructors.

Butler often hunts without a dog.

“How I hunt is I’m going to find really good grouse habitat where I know there’s a bunch of grouse. I can’t necessarily get to all of them. They’re going to be in this thicket where I can’t go and I don’t have a dog to go retrieve them or get them for me,” said Butler. “I just walk the trails. I walk them really slowly, and really quietly. If you can just walk quietly and slowly you’ll just startle them around corners and you can still jump and shoot grouse just as easy.”

For those that do hunt with dogs, each spoke of the joy it brings them to be out in the woods with their dog.

“There’s a bond,” said Dobson.

Dobson has been hunting since he was a boy.

“Before I could even carry a gun. Watching, that led into everything else,” he said.

But it wasn’t until he got Maggie that he really got into bird hunting with dogs.

“It’s a lot of enjoyment just watching them work, watching them do what they’re bred to do,” said Dobson. “I just find a lot of enjoyment being with them and spending time with them.”

Maggie runs through the woods as we make our way back to the cars at the end of class, occasionally running back to check on Dobson.

“She thinks it’s hunting season. This is what she does. You don’t need to train this, she just knows,” explained Dobson.

While Dobson and Maggie both have to wait patiently for the hunting season to start in the fall, it’s an experience he wouldn’t trade.

“You’ll never regret it. If it’s done right, it’s just one of those things we’ll look forward to every fall. There’s just something special about it. You can’t find that experience doing anything else. It’s good for the dog. It’s good for the owner also,” said Dobson.

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Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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